Interview
"The big question is whether DeSantis is strong enough to fight Trump"
In an exclusive dialogue with LPO, the political scientist from the University of Houston, Eduardo Alemán, analyzes the presidential race towards 2024. The Democratic candidacy, the relative strength of Trump and the long Republican dominance in Texas.

Eduardo Alemán is an Argentine political scientist who knows American politics very well. He is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston and received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of, Los Angeles. His research agenda focuses on the study of Congress and the relationships between the Executive and the Legislative branches. In an exclusive dialogue with LPO, he analyzes the difficulties of Republicans and Democrats to leave behind the confrontation dominated by Joe Biden and Donald Trump. In addition, he explains why the Democrats have not won in Texas for almost 30 years.

Why did the Republican candidates not have the results they expected at the national level in the midterm elections?

There are several theories. I am partial to the theory that links the election result to the candidates that the Republican Party presented. After all, we have a lot of experience with how the ruling party does in the midterm elections, and they always lose seats. In general, we also know that when there are economic problems, the voters tend to blame the federal government and the governing party suffers when we have a troubled economy. So everything indicated that, if it had been a normal election, the Republican Party as an opposition party would have fared better than it did. But it was not like that.

What happened? What was different?

I think that what was different was the kind of candidates that in many states were fielded by the Republican Party, and many of these candidates were Republicans connected with Trump. Their banner for the election was simply their connection with Trump. At first it seemed that this was going to be favorable to the Republicans. But as the election got closer, we began to realize that this was not the case and Trump was somehow becoming a liability. We are beginning to see that Trump could cause costs to the candidates. And we perhaps ended realizing this with the elections in Georgia, where the Republican Party presented a very bad candidate and lost the election. From the beginning, Herschel Walker was chosen by Trump and lost in a state where the Republicans won in the statewide elections and where in the first round the candidate for the Senate received two hundred thousand votes less than the Republican candidate for governor. So, many Republicans in the state of Georgia did not dare to vote for someone hand-picked by Trump. That kind of reflects the context of what happened in other states. The performance of the Republican Party was really poor, not competitive, hoping that the mere association with Trump and being Republican would give it victory. In this sense, the result of last election speaks more of Trump than of Biden.

Where is Trump after this defeat? And how could he ran for president after losing?

He had been waiting for the right moment to run for president and it was something that has been talked about for months. Before the election, he wanted to announced his candidacy, but decided to postpone it, hoping that the elections would be favorable to his party so that he could take some credit. But things went pretty bad for him. However, since he had announced that his candidacy was going to take place at some point after the elections, he thought that the more time passed, the worse it would be. It was not a suitable time for him. The way it was received by the media, including media sympathetic to the Republican Party, was very poor. A very poor announcement, little spread, criticized. It may be interesting to highlight a tweet that Paul Ryan wrote on election day. He was the speaker of the House of the Republican Party, who somehow clashed with Trump at the time and decided no to run for re-election. Ryan blamed Trump for the poor election results and stressed that the connection with the president was harmful to the party: I think that is the conclusion that many Republican candidates are coming to.

As the election got closer, we began to realize that this was not the case and Trump was somehow becoming a liability and he could cause costs to the candidates. We perhaps ended realizing this with the elections in Georgia, where the Republican Party presented a very bad candidate and lost the election.

Who do you see emerging as a leader within the Republican Party?

It is interesting. If we consider the opinion of those individuals who are inclined to vote Republican, Trump is still ahead by far. But when you ask the elites of the Republican Party, it is not the same. Many look to governor DeSantis of the State of Florida as a good potential candidate, someone who perhaps has the stature to confront Trump and beat him in an internal election. But it is going to be difficult, because let's remember that Trump -when he won the internal elections-, the first time he presented his way to the White House, he did not have the support of any of the elites of the Republican Party, neither representatives nor senators and they only joined him very late, when it seemed inevitable that he would win. So, I do not know if these problems are going to lead him to rethink his candidacy. I think he is going to move on, and whoever runs up against him in an internal election is going to have a very difficult time. But today the Republican candidate who sees himself with the best chance of carrying out that task is De Santis.

"If Republicans want to break with Trump, it is time to do it now"

Do you think that the support Trump has from the voters will lead him to winning the nomination again?

We must wait to see how the nomination process unfolds, and these long elections that are taking place in the United States, which are quite unusual compared to other countries, because they take a long time and go from state to state. This makes the bets change, and also the favorites. What I would assure at this moment is that Trump is going to be a candidate. The big question is whether someone strong enough to fight him can emerge. Not just in terms of raising enough money for the campaign, which I think De Santis could do, but mainly the Party would like to see another candidate who mounts a good campaign. The problem would be to what extent will he be able to convince voters that Trump's moment has passed. And we have to take into account the independents, who naturally would have voted for the opposition in a midterm election, but turned to the ruling party, despite the fact that President Biden has a very low voter evaluation and a very high inflation. So this indicates how independents see the Republican Party today. I think they do not see it as a acceptable alternative, partly because of Trump.

How do you see Biden's government in the coming years?

Better than we thought a month ago. We thought there were going to be two Republican chambers, and that these would be very complicated for Biden. Not only because he was not going to be able to present any bill, but because it was going to get complicated in other aspects. One of them related to the composition of the Judiciary, specifically of federal judges. In the United States, they are picked by the Senate, so it was a very complicated scenario. With the new composition of the Senate, the Democratic Party is in a better position than in the first two years of the Biden presidency. Today, the Senate in the United States is 50/50 and that implies that all the commissions have the same number of Democrats and Republicans. So when they vote on any decision within the Commission, it becomes a problem, since if it cannot be decided, they go to the plenary. And if they tie in plenary, they have to call the vice president to settle the tie. With the new conformation, the Senate will work 51 to 49. In other words, the Democrats have achieved a majority and it will greatly facilitate all kind of internal procedures regarding the dispatch of laws and proposals from the Federal Commission. But perhaps the most important thing is that federal judges are going to be able to be approved. This has been a problem for the Democratic Party. Republicans have historically been much more efficient than Democrats in the Senate and in filling these positions. Democrats have two years ahead to try to appoint federal judges, something that until now has been difficult for them.

The most important thing is that federal judges are going to be able to be approved. Republicans have historically been much more efficient than Democrats in the Senate and in filling these positions.

As for the House, one of the powers is to initiate Investigation Commissions and this is very important. Now that the Lower House is going to be in the hands of the Republican Party, there is no doubt that they are going to use this power to investigate causes, such as that of Hunter Biden's famous laptop. In purely legislative terms, that is, passing new laws, very little will be done.

"The big question is whether DeSantis is strong enough to fight Trump"

Who was the winner within the Democratic Party?

That question, easy to answer in most elections, is particularly complicated in this case. The midterm election benefited the president. In other context, we would say that going for the re-nomination and being a candidate again is a sign of support. The problems the Democrats encounter are two. One, that their president is not that popular, but well, after all, he did not do so badly in the midterm election. The second is that the president is older, so his mandate can be complex. This discussion is not only within the elite of the Democratic Party, but also in the media and among people and experts, about whether the president will be able to face a difficult and tough campaign and some very strong and confrontational debates. And many are not so sure if the president will be up to it. In the lists of potential candidates for the Democratic Party, he is number one for the next election. There are others like Vice President Kamala Harris, however, she does not have great support from the population. Her evaluations are not favorable in terms of voters and she is not favorite of the Democratic Party elites either. Her situation is a bit complicated, but she is typically mentioned among the four or five candidates. A third candidate is Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation. Her upvotes would be higher than the vice president' s, but there are not any candidate that stands out. I would also add Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to the list. She did very well in the last state elections, and she is considered a very capable woman and a politician with a great future.

Biden is candidate number one for the next election, but there are many doubts about whether the president will be able to face a difficult election. Kamala does not have great support from the population, her evaluations are not favorable in terms of voters and she is not favorite of the Party elites either.

Do you see Sanders trying it again?

Trying it, yes. Most people do not consider it viable because he is 81 years old. He is older than Biden. His age would complicate everything. But there is no candidate who stands out either. I think he has less chances than others. But there would also be a lot of people who would vote for him.

Let's analyze the election in Texas. Why can't Beto win?

Well, Beto O' Rourke cannot win Texas because the Democrats cannot win. There is no Democrat who has won an election for state office since 1994. We could discuss certain characteristics of Beto that prevent him from being the ideal candidate for governor. We can talk about what happened during the last election, but overall I would say it is a tough state for the Democratic Party. They haven't won for almost 30 years for a reason. O'Rourke's future situation is complex. He is a senatorial candidate who did not have much attraction when he was a candidate for president. And now he was a candidate for governor and lost by more than 10 points. I think that his future is no good in Texas, unless of course he is, for example, a candidate for the Lower House of Representatives in a specific district. Maybe there would be a chance. But if not, I do not see him with a future within Texas, and also too far to the left for the average Texan voter. When he was a candidate for president, he chose certain positions that perhaps at the national level for the Democratic Party were strategically correct. When he returned to Texas, to be a candidate for governor, the press repeated his comments every now and then, for example about gun possession. These things make him not a very attractive candidate for the average Texas voter.

"Being Latino and being a Democrat in Texas does not mean being progressive"

Why do more moderate Democrats, such as the Rio Grande Valley Democrats, have such a hard time winning the nomination against a more liberal candidate like Beto?

If you go back and look at the different candidates for governor of Texas in the previous elections, it was not very different, they were all more to the left. They were candidates who, to an average Texan, and even within the Texas Democratic Party, were progressive. That is problematic when it comes to attracting certain voters. There is a very urban Texas, where the Democrats are particularly progressive. I would even say the Democratic voter. This urban Texas is Harris County (the county where the city of Houston is), Austin and let's say urban Texas. That voter is different than the Democrat in the suburbs and different from the Democratic voter in the border area, and is different than the Democratic voter in the rural areas, which tend to be smaller because the Republican Party dominates there. So it is hard for any candidate to appeal to these different groups. The more moderate candidates of the Texas Democratic Party have had a very difficult time finding a candidate with Beto's qualities. He is attractive as a candidate, in his way of speaking, how he communicates, he has the energy to travel to all the counties of Texas and create ties. But if he had been a more moderate candidate, without a past behind him... Beto finds it very difficult to win new voters and attract moderates.

The different candidates for governor of Texas in the previous elections were all more to the left.They were candidates who, to an average Texan, and even within the Texas Democratic Party, were progressive. It is a problem when trying to attract voters.

He is also a candidate who generates something and can increase voter turnout. Beto causes that effect on young people.

Without a doubt, Beto is very charismatic. Therefore, the challenge for the Democratic Party is to find someone with the same charisma as Beto, but who can reach other kind of voters, not urban or university students.

Can we compare him to Trump in that sense: a candidate highly supported by his party's voters who has a hard time getting the moderate vote?

If we think of Trump, he did very well in his first election. And he did not do so badly in the second: he lost by a few votes. So I would tell you no. Beto did badly electorally, and I would not say that Trump did it so badly. He lost by relatively very little, some votes that turned.

In Harris County, Judge Lina Hidalgo won, despite the fact that many pollsters anticipated the victory of Alexandria del Moral Mealer. How do you interpret that result?

I am not so sure. When she was first elected, there was a Democratic wave, which carried her to every seat in Harris County. It was a rare election, where she won the ruling party and it was a surprise to many people. I do not think she was very well known in Harris County. Circumstances favored her in that choice. Now, in this midterm election, the Democratic vote was supposed to decline and people recently associated with her had been embroiled in allegations of corruption. That created an unfavorable context for her that the Republicans tried to take advantage of. However, she won, she won by very little. She fared worse than Beto O'Rourke in Harris County. She won by around two points and Beto won by more than nine points. That shows that she was very close to losing. Partly because of the complication, during her four years and also because of the good campaign of the opposition to remove her as a judge. Harris County is a Democratic county, and Democrats generally do well.

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